Family Guy: Counting down to a holiday abroad without the children
GOOD grief, it's almost March, I realise, pausing to take stock of our family, a process that not unusually finds me standing in the middle of a room and staring, rather haunted-looking, at the floor.
In two weeks we'll be leaving the two younger teens in the care of their college-age brother while we swan off to see the eldest one in sunny California. Are we ready for this whole new level of hitherto untested trust? Are they ready for it? Are the dogs even ready for it?
"Grok!" I croak, or something like it.
"You all right?" asks my wife with a frown as she whisks past.
"I'm taking stock," I tell her, still staring into space.
"Please don't," she advises, "you'll only do yourself an injury."
She's right. I probably shouldn't dwell too much. I mean, things are, by and large, moving in the right direction - that is, more or less forward, if a little squiggly at times.
The exception being our newer, neurologically-challenged dog, of course, who continues her campaign to rid our house of all functioning electronics.
Two of our three phone handsets are so badly chewed it's like holding a cheese grater to your ear. We are a house where nothing bleeps any more.
"Seven days," says my wife, whisking past again, to the little blackboard hanging from the press, where she proceeds to erase the number six.
"Until, what?" I mutter. "Until they cut off the gas?"
"You mean, since what," she announces, using a piece of blue chalk on the board so that it screeches slightly as she carefully carves a large number seven.
"Okay, since what, then," I surrender.
"Since our last accident," she says.
"Really?" I say. "We're so accident-prone, we're recording our family safety record?"
"Idiot. We both know exactly what I mean," she says and I follow her gaze to the dog.
"Oh," I say. "Yes. Seven days. That's . . . quite amazing."
I go to pet the dog and it lunges for my sleeve. "One step forward, at least," I mutter.
"Seven steps," corrects my wife proudly. The dog looks at her.
The younger middle teen shuffles in. "What are we talking about?" he says.
My wife gestures at the chalk board. "We were just saying," she begins, "how it's been . . ."
"I need money," he cuts in. "Twelve. No, 10's good."
"Have you gone completely mad?" says my wife, reaching for her bag. "Do you think we're made of money?" She digs for the coin purse. "What exactly is this for?" She takes out a fiver.
"For work experience," he says, snatching the fiver. "I'll be gone all day for the rest of the week."
"Again?" I frown. "So soon?"
He's already just spent five days at a bicycle repair shop. "Cycle shop" he'd corrected. Apparently, they don't call them bicycle repair shops any more. Some of the cycles there cost as much as a small car, we were informed at dinner after his first day.
"Oh?" I replied cagily. "How much would that be then?"
"Put it this way," he explained, pleased with himself. "Today I changed the inner tube on a wheel worth more than €700."
"You're right," I told him. "That's €700 more than our car's worth."
He'd been impressed with the mechanic, with his goatee and piercings. When the year head had called to ask how he was getting on, the mechanic said: "He's just outside on a smoke break."
This was very funny indeed. "Slander," said my wife.
I look at the fiver he's now stuffing into his pocket. "This work experience is expensive," I tell him.
"Actually, I got a hundred at the end of the week from the cycle shop," he beams.
"For smokes?" asks his little sister, sidling in.
"To reimburse his dad for all that money on travel and lunches," I say, snapping my fingers and holding out my hand.
"Sure," he says, giving the hand a sidelong look. "Whatever." He snorts and lopes out.
"Do you need a lift?" calls his mother after him. The door slams.
"What about you?" I ask the youngest. "Nope," she says, shaking her head. "Thanks."
Her other brother appears around the stairs, his bag already over his shoulder for college. He grabs keys.
"You realise," I call after him, joking, "this is all ahead of you - in about two . . ." The door slams again.
"You know," says my wife, "they say you can measure your success by how independent your children are."
"You may think you're trying to cheer me up," I tell her.
"Oh, dear," says the youngest. "I think the dog wants out."
We all look over to where there's already a puddle.
My wife walks over to the blackboard and sighs, replacing the seven with a big, fat zero.